High-profile cases in Aspen draw to a close
The end is nearing for four criminal cases of high public interest.
Sentencing hearings are set today for a former kennel operator who admitted to mistreating sled dogs and an Aspen High School student whose take-down arrest was video-recorded by his peers. Also today, charges could be officially dismissed against an elderly man who drove on the wrong side of the road and killed a motorcyclist.
On April 21, a woman will be sentenced for driving across the lane and killing a college student.
“They’ve all taken a lot of hard work with a lot of different considerations,” said Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan, the prosecutor on three of the cases.
Teen drug arrest
Today’s court agenda starts with the sentencing of an Aspen High School student who was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession at the Maroon Creek Road public bus stop next to the campus.
The teenage boy is scheduled to appear before Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols following his March 2 guilty plea to underage possession of marijuana and resisting arrest.
The charges in the case are not unusual, but the manner in which police brought the student into custody sparked debate about community policing and teen behavior and drug use. Nearby students heckled arresting officer Adam Loudon and captured the arrest on their cellphones. The Aspen Police Department stood by the arrest, which was completed after Loudon called for assistance. As part of the plea deal, the student is required to write a letter of apology to Loudon and the Police Department. He also is undergoing drug counseling and community service. The sentence is deferred for one year, so if the teen keeps a clean record during that time, the arrest will be erased from his record.
Loudon purportedly considered leaving the department prior to the arrest and later made that decision official.
“We were unaware that officer Loudon was resigning when my client entered his plea,” said Ryan Kalamaya, the teen’s attorney. “We hope that the Aspen Police Department uses this opportunity to bring in officers that are committed to community-oriented policing. Personally, I hope my client uses this opportunity to turn the page on a difficult chapter of his life and move forward in a positive manner.”
Krabloonik case comes to an end
Dan MacEachen, the former owner of the Krabloonik dog-sledding business in Snowmass Village, also will be sentenced today. In a deal reached March 31, MacEachen pleaded guilty to one count of animal cruelty in exchange for the dismissal of seven identical charges.
Both the defense and the prosecution are recommending probation but no jail time for MacEachen — the charge carries up to an 18-month jail term and $5,000 fine.
“I think Dan just wants the dogs taken care of, and this facilitates the sale and the new owners’ care of the dogs,” his attorney, Greg Greer, said at the March hearing. “And that really was all he was ever interested in.”
MacEachen sold his business in December, a year after the District Attorney’s Office brought charges against him.
Leading the public outcry about MacEachen’s treatment of the canines has been Voices for the Sled Dogs, formerly known as Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs. After MacEachen’s plea agreement was announced, the group offered this statement: “This outcome will help to ensure that standards of care for sled dogs continue to be taken seriously. Every person who spoke up on behalf of the dogs throughout these past seven years, and asked for increased oversight and accountability, has been heard. We will continue our work as Voices for the Sled Dogs and focus on statewide and national rules and regulations to further improve the care of sled dogs.”
Two traffic deaths in one day
Two cases involving two highway fatalities in separate accidents Aug. 23 in Pitkin County are set to be adjudicated today and next week.
John Walls, an 89-year-old man who was driving on the wrong side of Highway 82 when he hit and killed motorcyclist and local resident Patrick Dunn, 53, is set for sentencing today in Pitkin County Court.
Walls has been found incompetent, so he can’t stand trial or be prosecuted.
A sentencing is scheduled April 21 for Basalt resident Christine Tinner, who was driving a vehicle that crossed the line on Highway 133, resulting in the death of Meleyna Kistner, 21, who was a college student from Indiana.
Tinner has pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges of careless driving causing death and careless driving causing injury.
Relatives of both victims have expressed frustration to the judge presiding over both cases, Erin Fernandez-Ely, because they want accountability from the defendant. Likewise, Fernandez-Ely has voiced her difficulty in trying to find the appropriate outcome.
Bryan said that as much as the traffic-death cases have in common, legally speaking, they are “completely apples and oranges.”
“We have a finding from the state hospital that (Walls) is incompetent to stand trial,” she said.
The Tinner case, however, isn’t as clear-cut, she said.
“In the end, this is one of the hardest cases that a DA can have, which is making a specific recommendation,” she said.
Tinner, 47, faces a year in jail, but Bryan said she doesn’t think that would be a productive punishment.
“The sad fact is this was an accident, a horrible, horrible, tragic accident, and I don’t know that any amount of jail time is going to accomplish much of anything,” she said.
Still, Bryan said perhaps a combination of a short jail term with probation, community service and restorative justice — when the defendant and victim’s family try to reach an understanding — might be the best approach.
Many of Kistner’s relatives attended last month’s sentencing hearing, but Tinner broke down on the hearing’s final day, and the judge put off the sentencing until next week.
“I am not going to finalize a sentence without the defendant present,” the judge said at the time. “And I know that everybody wants to hear her ask for forgiveness, which I was anticipating.”
Tinner pleaded guilty Feb. 3 to careless driving causing death and careless driving causing injury, both misdemeanors. Kistner’s family members have shown frustration that harsher charges weren’t filed and also that the State Patrol did not test Tinner for alcohol or other substances after the accident.
Kistner was driving her boyfriend’s car at the time of the accident. The boyfriend, Daniel Thul, survived but was hospitalized with serious injuries. Tinner also was hospitalized with serious injuries.
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